Return to Headlines

Houserville Water Study Program

If the difference between a swamp and a bog seems muddy to you, just ask Houserville Elementary School fifth-graders. They now have a clearer picture.

Recently, 60 students in a trio of fifth-grade classes spent a morning learning about wetlands and the nearby Spring Creek watershed during an annual water study program taught through a cross-generational partnership.

State College Area High School Environmental Club students visited Houserville for the program, joined by Adam Smith from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, members of the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Principal Todd Dishong.

Rotating among three stations, the fifth-graders studied water quality, macroinvertebrate organisms, the impact of pollutants, and the characteristics of swamps, bogs, fens and marshes.

“It’s part of what they study in science,” says Dishong, whose lesson centered on watershed pollution sources. “It’s kind of an in-house field trip instead of taking the kids out.”

For the seventh year, fifth-grade teacher Linda Andrews organized the adventure. For science enrichment, Houserville students used to travel to Greenwood Furnace State Park or, later on, Spring Creek Park. But logistical and weather challenges convinced Andrews to bring the watershed to Houserville instead.

“We talk about water quality. We talk about stewardship,” she says. “We talk about their responsibility as young people to our community, in the small sense of State College or Houserville, but at large as well.”

Smith, a fish and wildlife biologist, and the club’s advisor, State High biology and environmental science teacher Susan Braun, returned to participate. At Smith’s station, students observed an Enviroscape, a landscape model that demonstrates runoff patterns. Simulating rain, sprayed water dissolved cupcake sprinkles representing pollutants such as oil, fertilizers and pesticides. The flows then trickled into waterways or seeped into groundwater.

Braun’s club collected Spring Creek macroinvertebrates the night before, netting mayflies, caddisflies, sowbugs, aquatic worms, New Zealand mud snails and even a sculpin. Classifying the samples, Houserville’s budding biologists learned how macroinvertebrates reveal a stream’s health —  among fifth-grader Mia Gadowsky’s favorite parts.

“I really liked it,” she says. “The helpers who did it were really nice and they taught me a lot.”

The learning was mutual.

“My students have a deeper understanding of stream ecosystems when they teach younger students,” Braun says. “The fifth-graders are always very excited to see the macros, and the high school students experience the joy the fifth-graders have.”

Senior Maia Egan enjoyed the interactions. “Teaching them about bugs in a creek, water quality, pollution tolerance, pH, and the life cycle of a butterfly was fun,” she says. “I know it will help them in the long run. They all seemed fascinated that these things live next door in Spring Creek.”

Water acidity appealed to Nick Marzka, but Trout Unlimited’s wetlands lesson hit home especially. He now knows key differences. “A marsh has weeds growing all around it, and the bog, I believe, has peat,” he says “Swamps have trees in them.”

Sydney Barshinger also absorbed a lot, as befitting a day devoted to aquatic environments, but one fact stood out: Everything is connected.

“When you litter and it rains, it will go into the sewer gutters,” she says. “It doesn’t go away. It just ends up in another body of water. We should take care of our water.”

By Chris Rosenblum

Photos by Nabil K. Mark